Rafa Marquez came to MLS as a highly decorated Mexican international and a longtime veteran of some outstanding Barcelona sides. He leaves as a virtual punchline, a player who was seemingly hated by anyone who rooted for the New York Red Bulls. His time here became much better known for his clumsy criticisms of teammates and being suspended at the least opportune time.
Rather than raise the profile of the Red Bulls, he only served to drag it down. In so many ways, he was a near perfect counter-balance to David Beckham, at least during the final few years.
Considering he was being paid nearly $5 million a year and was probably written a check in that ballpark to walk away from the final year of his four-year deal, it's definitely tempting to consider his status as "Worst Designated Player signing in league history" a slamdunk conclusion. To be sure, it's a solid case.
But it also ignores the fact that MLS is littered with high-profile signings that didn't turn out as expected. Heck, it's pretty common in every league in every sport in every country around the world to pay players far more than they turn out to be worth.
Maybe it's unfair to simply look at Marquez's salary, consider the public relations disaster that his tenure turned out to be and call it day. At the very least, I think it's worth some discussion.
At some point, a player's actual production deserves to be considered. In that vein, there were plenty of Designated Player who were worse than Marquez.
Among players whose MLS tenures are already over, there were at least 12 who didn't even make it to 1,000 minutes. Most of these players were midseason signings that their teams simply thought better of once they had a full offseason to mull it over. This list includes the likes of Mustapha Jarju (Vancouver Whitecaps), Mista (Toronto FC), Jeferson (Sporting Kansas City) and Denilson (FC Dallas). Although Frederico Puppo started the season with the Chicago Fire, he was gone by midseason after playing just 216 minutes (the fewest any DP has ever played). That quintet combined for just one goal and three assists, while being paid about $3 million for a little over 2,000 minutes of combined playing time. We can probably throw goalkeeper Frank Rost's name into that group, after the Red Bulls signed him midseason as what they expected to be the final piece to their puzzle only to see him save just 65 percent of the shots he faced, give up 1.27 goals per game and go 4-4-3 before unsurprisingly being cut loose at the end of 2011.
There were others who never managed to secure significant playing time, despite taking up a roster spot for at least an entire season. That list includes players like Luis Angel Landin (Houston Dynamo) and Branko Boskovic (D.C. United). Those two managed to stick around with their teams for parts of five combined seasons, but played fewer than 1,700 combined minutes.
The final group of Worst DPs is made up of players whose disappointing tenures are harder to illustrate through numbers. Players like Kris Boyd (Portland Timbers), Hamdi Salihi (United), Kenny Miller (Whitecaps), Julian de Guzman (TFC and Dallas) and, of course, Marquez can all be lumped into this group. You might even be able to throw players like former Sounders Blaise Nkufo and Freddie Ljungberg into this group, based on the way they left Seattle under dark clouds. All of these players were at least reasonably productive, at least in comparison to the other people on this list, but fell well short of living up to expectations that came with their signings.
Without further ado, here's my Top 10 list for "Worst DPs in MLS history":
Dishonorable mention: Puppo was only a DP because of a transfer fee and many didn't even realize he was a DP until he was loaned out about midway through the season. The Uruguayan never made much of an impression and only played 216 minutes in 11 appearances. Makes the list simply because no DP in league history has played fewer minutes.
10. Landin: Is this low on the list because he was only a DP because of his transfer fee, but he was absolutely a disappointment nonetheless. Spent most of two seasons on the Dynamo roster, but only played 796 minutes. Was finally released in 2010 and has spent the last two years bouncing around Mexico.
9. Miller: There's still a chance Kenny Miller back in 2013, but considering he's due to make more than $1.5 million it seems like the Whitecaps would be chasing good money after bad. The Scottish international never seemed to adapt to MLS and found himself coming off the bench as the season wore on. That he didn't even start in the Whitecaps' playoff game speaks volumes.
8. Salihi: Even if he's back, Salihi faces a long uphill climb to get back into the good graces of coach Ben Olsen. The Albanian international came to MLS with a resume that promised goal-scoring would be a given. While he managed to deliver six goals, the fact that he started just 10 games and wasn't on the field when United need him most speaks to just how deep in the doghouse he was.
7. Boskovic: Earned some level of redemption this season when he at least managed to get himself onto the field, but he wasn't technically a DP this year. During his two DP years, Boskovic only logged 895 minutes and didn't register a single goal or assist in league play.
6. Rost: Sometimes easy to overlook just how bad the German goalkeeper was during his half season. In a year in which Bouna Condoul and Greg Sutton were "battling" it out for the starting job, Rost was supposed to offer an obvious upgrade. Instead, he was arguably the worst of the bunch.
5. Jeferson: Now we're getting into the unmitigated disaster portion of our list. The Brazilian was billed as a playmaker, but only logged a single assist in 571 minutes. Regularly found himself at the end of Peter Vermes' bench during 2011.
4. Denilson: At one point the Brazilian international was the world's highest paid player and came to Dallas with 60 caps under his belt. Never seemed particularly interested in anything beyond collecting another pay check and left the league with just one goal, earning about $880,000 in the process.
3. Mista: Had some decent years in Spain before joining TFC at midseason and being paid nearly $1 million. Only played 544 minutes and logged only a single assist.
2. Jarju: Came into the league billed as the first African DP (which wasn't technically accurate anyway, as Nkufo was born in Congo) and left with the ignominy of being the only DP who failed to register a single point during his MLS career.
1. Marquez: Despite playing more minutes and logging more assists than any other player on this list, no one else came close to generating as much bad press. Marquez only seemed passingly interested in helping the Red Bulls' cause, either off the field or on it. Maybe he was just misunderstood, but considering he was paid close to $15 million for his three years and was the Red Bulls paid him million more to walk away, there's just no real competition.